The U.S. and New Mexico flags fly before the upcoming midterm elections in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Oct. 1, 2018.
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images
A failed New Mexico state House candidate described by police as an “election denier” was arrested Monday in a string of shootings at the homes of regional Democratic leaders.
Republican Solomon Pena is accused of conspiring with and paying four men to carry out four shootings at the Albuquerque-area homes of two Bernalillo County commissioners and two state legislators, Albuquerque police said.
Pena might have been motivated by anger over his November loss, police said. Police spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said at a news conference early Monday evening that Pena alleged his defeat was the result of election fraud.
Pena lost his state House challenge to incumbent Democrat Miguel P. Garcia by 5,679 to 2,033, or 74% to 26%.
He took his case to three county commissioners and a state senator — some whose homes were targeted in the shootings — to no avail, Gallegos said.
“He had complaints about his election he felt being rigged,” Gallegos said. “As the mayor said, he was an election denier — he doesn’t want to accept the results of his election.”
One of those meetings with local and state leaders became heated, he said.
“One actually led to quite an argument, I believe,” Gallegos said. “It was shortly after that the shootings occurred.”
Pena was a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, who claimed voter fraud in his 2020 election loss, a claim that is unfounded. The suspect was photographed during his campaign last year wearing a red “Make America Great Again” sweatshirt with a stitched, gold-colored signature of the former president.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller described the attacks as a product of political extremism.
“This radicalism is a threat to our city, our state, and our nation,” he tweeted Monday. “We will continue to push back against hate in all forms and stop political violence.”
Pena was with another suspect in a vehicle accused of being involved in the last in the shooting series, and a weapon recovered in the vehicle after it was stopped about 40 minutes later was connected to the attack, police said.
Two other shootings previously believed to have been linked to the case so far have not been connected to the suspect, police said at the news conference.
On Jan. 9 police announced the arrest of another suspect in the case and said they took possession of a firearm possibly used in one of the shootings. On Monday, police said four other people were involved, with more charges and arrests coming. The status of the Jan. 9 suspect wasn’t clear.
But on Monday, Police Chief Harold Medina described Pena as the initiator of the shootings.
“It is believed that he is the mastermind behind this,” he said at Monday’s news conference.
A SWAT team arrested Pena in the Albuquerque area Monday, Medina said. Ballistics evidence from one of the shootings connected the case to him, Medina said.
An incident not connected to the arrest was a Jan. 5 report of shots fired outside the downtown law offices of newly appointed state Sen. Moe Maestas, police said.
It wasn’t clear whether Pena has retained counsel for the case. There was no response to an inquiry sent via his campaign site. A company associated with Pena did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Albuquerque Journal describes Pena as an unsuccessful candidate for New Mexico House District 14, which represents the Albuquerque area’s South Valley.
The newspaper reported during his campaign last year that Pena has a criminal record. He served nearly seven years in prison for burglary, it said.
The shootings included an incident Dec. 4, when eight rounds were fired in the direction of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa’s home in southeast Albuquerque, police said.
Also in early December, the home of incoming state House Speaker Javier Martinez was believed to have been targeted in the same string of attacks. Police, however, did not describe the incident as among those connected to the arrest.
Other shootings originally tied to the attacks include a Dec. 10 incident at the former campaign office of Raúl Torrez, New Mexico’s newly elected attorney general; a Dec. 11 incident that included more than a dozen gunshots that hit the home of former County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley; and a Jan. 3 report of eight shots fired in the direction of the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez.
Pena is described in a campaign email as a California native who completed high school in New Mexico, became a Navy hospital corpsman assigned to Okinawa, Japan, owns a business and earned a political science degree from the University of New Mexico in 2021.
On his campaign website, Pena vows a safer future for the state. “I will fight to provide opportunity for the next generation, keep the local economy open, and stop those who wish New Mexicans harm — in any way,” he said.